Authors: Kevin Hardman
Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Horror, #Coming of Age, #Myths & Legends, #Greek & Roman, #Paranormal & Urban
It raked the claws on its free hand across Errol’s chest and abdomen. His clothing parted like water and he screamed in unimaginable agony as the thing’s touch both singed his flesh with unbearable heat and - at the same time - burned it with mind-numbing cold. He fell to the earth like a limp, wet rag as the Wendigo let him drop and then disappeared.
It was another five minutes before he found the strength to stand. On her part, Gale looked to be completely in a daze the entire time.
“Do you smell that?” she asked.
Following the Wendigo’s departure (and the return of his strength), Errol had worked on treating his wounds. Oddly enough, despite the intense pain he had felt, the wounds were primarily superficial: three long but fairly shallow scratches that angled down in parallel lines from the upper left side of his chest to the right side of his stomach.
Of course, the monster hadn’t been trying to seriously hurt him. That would ruin the hunt. Moreover, with the silver extracted, it was surely back in top form – Errol had seen the creature’s wound starting to heal before it dropped him.
As to his own injuries, Errol first applied a salve from his medicine kit to fight infection. Then he took out a small tube containing a dark liquid and removed the cap from it. The tube contained an epoxy – a resin from a medicinal tree in the Badlands that would help seal the wounds even better than sewing them shut.
After applying the epoxy to the lacerations, he took his extra blanket and cut several strips from it, intending to bind the wounds. As he worked on his injuries, his mind reflected on this latest encounter with the Wendigo.
It hadn’t been a bad plan, his idea about the coughing and the silver. If nothing else, it showed that the Wendigo had weaknesses and could be outmaneuvered. The trick then, was not to overpower it but to outsmart it.
It was too bad that the marsh didn’t offer as much protection as he had hoped – at least not at night; it would have been great to have some additional space between them and the Wendigo, as well as more time to come up with some other tactic to try to use on the monster. Errol also regretted that he hadn’t been able to tell Gale about his plan with the silver, but he was gravely concerned about the Wendigo’s legendary hearing ability. That aside, it still appeared to be the right decision, because – looking at her now – Gale was obviously becoming unbalanced.
She stood in the same spot she had when the Wendigo had appeared, muttering to herself and wringing her hands. She had a completely forlorn look upon her face. When Errol called to her, it was if she didn’t hear him. Errol walked over and slapped her – not hard enough to really hurt her, but with enough force to get her attention. That seemed to momentarily bring her back to herself. Within fifteen minutes, however, she was back to muttering, speaking of sights, sounds, and smells that Errol was oblivious to.
Errol sat her down on her sleeping bag and placed her extra blanket around her shoulders. The chill that had accompanied the Wendigo’s appearance had not left with it, and the campfire was still burning low.
He retrieved a couple of the seed pods from his bag. Punching holes in them as before, he placed them near the fire, and once again the escaping gas fed the flames, causing them to blaze up into life again.
Errol stared at the flames, debating his options. Digby had said that the Wendigo chose one victim per night. He would have to watch Gale carefully, as it was clear that she was next on its list. Even as the thought occurred to him, he saw her get up and start walking as if to exit the camp. He raced to her, turning her around and leading her back, but it was clear that she was not in her right mind. It would take extreme vigilance to make sure she did not end up in the monster’s gullet tonight. And even if she didn’t, his own number would be up the following night. In short, this was likely the last night for both of them unless they found a way to fight the thing hunting them.
He put Gale into her sleeping bag and cinched it up. She just lay there, staring up at the nighttime sky and muttering to herself. Errol moved away and went to place another seed pod near the fire. They needed a plan (although using the term “they” was a misnomer at this point, as it was clear Gale would be of no help). As he watched the hissing gas escape, he thought back on the seed pod Gale had tossed on the fire earlier, and how they had laughed about it afterwards.
And that will probably be the last thing I’ll ever laugh about. My last bit of fun is exploding seed.
And with that notion, a sudden thought occurred to him. He turned it over in his mind, working the pros and cons of it, trying to figure out if there were any other options, until he finally decided that it was the only course of action under the circumstances.
Why not? Might as well go out with a bang.
Decision made, he went through his pack to retrieve the items that would make what he had to do easier. Then he went to Gale and climbed into her sleeping bag with her, adjusting it so that it covered them completely - even their heads.
The Wendigo, once again far from its prey, was still able to easily see the goings-on in the camp. It watched the boy crawl into the girl’s sleeping bag with her, an act which was then followed by various movements in the sleeping bag itself.
The boy had given it a serious wound. Although it had begun healing immediately after the silver was removed, the injury was still painful. Moreover, the ache only exacerbated the Wendigo’s already-insatiable hunger.
It thought that perhaps the girl would come tonight; she had succumbed to the Fever with extreme swiftness, and was practically begging to be devoured.
Regardless, whether she came tonight or not, it would end this hunt the next night.
The next morning saw Errol more chipper than he had been in days. Everything had gone almost perfectly the night before. He didn’t feel like a man who was possibly facing his last day; instead, he felt a calm sense of finality, as if he could now accept anything fate had in store for him.
He glanced at Gale. She looked as though she had gotten no sleep at all, and that was very much the case. After he had finished in her sleeping bag, he had gone back to his own. However, before sleep claimed him, he twice had to get up and stop her from wandering off. After the second time, he had settled for binding her hands and feet with a length of rope from his saddle.
Upon waking, he had untied her, but she still had a vacant look in her eyes and seemed unable to take note of anything going on around her. Rather than travel with her in this condition, Errol decided they would stay put and make their stand exactly where they were.
Unfortunately, the good spirits that Errol had awakened with did not appear to have much longevity. As the day wore on, his mood changed, becoming more fearful and hesitant. He vaguely wondered whether this was due to his own nature or the influence of the Wendigo - the Fever.
As twilight began to fall, he went about starting a campfire for the night. As he set ablaze the plants he had collected and carefully laid out earlier for their fire, he reviewed his plan again, less sure in the coming darkness as to whether or not it had even a chance of succeeding. He looked at Gale, who was - for all intents and purposes - still catatonic. She was sitting on a blanket, staring at the fire. He had tried moving her away several times, to keep her out of the danger that was to come, but she kept returning to the same spot. Finally, he had given up and settled for draping a thick blanket over her head and allowing it to hang down, covering much of her face.
He didn’t bother with warding the camp this time, as doing so had proven to be only mildly effective against the Wendigo, and he might need every bit of power later. Moreover, even if wards had been able to stop it, they were of limited value when the monster’s prey - in the clutch of Wendigo Fever - willingly left the protection they provided and offered themselves to the creature. No, he would not die like that; he’d rather die fighting, while he was still in his right mind.
Convinced that he had made the right decision, Errol looked to the horizon, where the setting sun slowly descended, a huge orange orb taking its warmth and protection with it as it continued to drop. As the last ray of light vanished, a chill wind blew into the camp. As it had the night before, the campfire diminished somewhat, and the horses neighed wildly, maddened with fright.
The Wendigo had arrived.
As always, the monster had simply appeared as if out of thin air. The wound that the silver had made in its stomach was almost completely healed, the only evidence of what had happened being an angry patch of newly-formed, reddish skin in the place where the dart had landed.
This time, the Wendigo didn’t stand still but strode across the camp, towards Gale.
“No!” Errol shouted. “Me first!” He had his axe in his hand and dropped into a low fighting stance. The Wendigo made an odd noise, like something between a cough and growl. It took Errol a second to realize that the thing was laughing. Regardless, it seemed to accept his challenge, because it strode over to where he was and stood towering over him.
Errol moved forward, swinging in a left-to-right arc at the monster’s midsection (which was about the height of Errol’s head). It lithely stepped aside; following the axe’s momentum, Errol spun in a circle and swung at the creature again. Once more, it avoided the blow with ease.
Staying low, Errol circled, apparently looking for an opening but - more importantly - trying to get properly situated with respect to his plan. The Wendigo circled with him. When it was in the position that Errol wanted – between him and the campfire, with its back to the flames (and with Gale on the opposite side of the blaze) – Errol charged straight at it. He brought the axe up for an overhand strike in his right hand and swung as hard as he could.
The Wendigo caught the blade in its claw. At the same time that it did so, Errol – with his left hand – tossed a seed pod between the thing’s legs and into the campfire.
Errol released his axe into the monster’s grip and fell back, covering his face as the gas-filled pod exploded, spewing its contents in all directions. For the second time in as many nights, Errol heard the Wendigo scream in pain. It dropped the axe and spun around, still wailing, while reaching over its shoulder with one claw and behind its back with another, trying to get at something.
As it turned its back towards him, Errol witnessed a sight that gave him courage. The Wendigo had several great, weeping wounds on its backside, from its shoulders all the way down to its calves. It was as if its flesh was made of ice and was now melting due to some internal fire.
It’s working! It’s working!
Errol’s plan was basically very simple. He had taken the pure silver links from the revenant’s bracelet and – using his knife – had cut them up into smaller bits. He had then punctured the seed pods, and followed this up with pushing the silver bits inside. Finally, he had sealed the little holes in the pods with the epoxy from his medicine kit. The result was seed pods that would still inflate (or blow up), but with a little something extra inside.
All of this he had done while in Gale’s sleeping bag with her. He had dared not do it in the open for fear that the monster would see him, and a lot of activity by him – in his sleeping bag alone – might also make it wary. He was far more willing to let it think whatever it wanted about his activities in Gale’s sleeping bag while he brought his plan to fruition.
Everything had worked as he had hoped, with the pod exploding and shredding the Wendigo with silver shrapnel. Errol’s joy at success, however, was short-lived. In what was almost a sickening act, Errol saw the thing thrust its claws into its own chest - much like the night before - and then dig around before coming out with something: a bit of silver! In essence, the creature – unable to get at the silver from the entry points in its back – was, in a remarkable act of self-preservation, digging the metal out through the front of its body.
Errol was so shocked that, for a second, he couldn’t move. However, by the time the creature had pulled out a second piece of silver, he was in motion. He ran forward and scooped up his axe, then swung with all his might at the Wendigo’s right knee. It was like striking a stone, but flesh and tendon came apart as the blow connected.
Already weak from the infiltration of silver, the leg collapsed under the additional damage caused by the axe, and the Wendigo went down on one knee with a shriek. Still screaming, it swatted at Errol, connecting with a backhand that sent him flying.
The impact when he hit the ground knocked the breath out of him, and he lay there dazed for a moment. He looked at the Wendigo, saw that it was still mining silver from its chest, and struggled to his feet. He pulled another seed pod from his pocket and flung it towards the campfire. Shockingly, the Wendigo reached for it with a claw that was bloody and slick with its own gore.
Errol bit his knuckle in anguish as the monster seemed to snag the pod. However, it actually missed, although it did indeed make contact with the pod, throwing its trajectory off. It hit the ground a few feet shy of the fire. The Wendigo looked at Errol, making its weird laugh again, and continued removing the silver bits from its body. Errol made as if to circle around, but the monster, despite its collapsed knee, scrambled along the ground to keep itself between him and the pod. Errol, forgetting about his warding wand, held up his right hand and uttered an incantation. He curled the hand into a fist as a hazy blue-white glow began forming around it.
Suddenly, the campfire flared up, the result of Errol having carefully laid the firewood (or rather, the plants he was using as firewood) in the pattern of a ward earlier. The Wendigo turned to look at it just as the heat made the pod Errol had thrown explode. It sent a second load of silver projectiles flying at the creature. The monster howled and clutched at its face, neck, and chest. When it turned back to Errol, he could see that its face was a ruin. One eye was gone, leaving nothing but a sickly yellow socket. Its nose and cheeks had been shredded, leaving strips of skin hanging down like melting globs of goo. Likewise, its torso was peppered with holes where fragments of silver had entered, making Errol wonder how it was still holding together in one piece.
Errol held out his hand and fired a spark from his palm. It struck the Wendigo in the chest and knocked it back into the campfire, which suddenly blazed up around the creature in an eerie black flame that Errol had never seen or heard of before. The monster got up, coated in ebony flames and shrieking like a banshee, so loud, prolonged, and blood-chilling that Errol had to cover his ears. Then it collapsed back down into the fire, which continued burning black around the body.
Taking a deep breath, Errol flopped to the ground in exhaustion.
He looked towards Gale, hoping that the blanket had protected her when the seed pods exploded - and experienced a mild moment of panic when he didn’t see her. He stood up and looked around wildly. She was gone.
“Gale!” he called out desperately. “Gale!”
She must have slipped away while he was fighting the Wendigo. What would killing the Wendigo do as far as the Fever? Was she still under some weird compulsion?
He studied the area where she had been sitting, and saw her tracks leading off into the marsh. He held up his wand, letting its light flare brightly against the gloomy darkness. He was about to follow after her when he heard something behind him. Thinking it was her, he braced himself to turn, only to have something hard and solid connect with the back of his head before he could do so.